Mesothelioma Patient Stories:
The asbestos mines of South Africa are where the mesothelioma epidemic was originally discovered in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Mesothelioma is a very rare form of cancer, yet an inordinately high number of cases have been diagnosed in the asbestos mining region of South Africa. The high number of cases led researchers to specifically investigate the link between asbestos exposure and the onset of mesothelioma. Since there is a delay between asbestos exposure and the early symptoms of mesothelioma, development of a causative link between the two was difficult. The research was further complicated by the political powers. They did not want evidence that linked asbestos to mesothelioma lung cancer to cause a negative economic impact in this region.
The first scientific paper was presented and published in 1962 showing that the inhalation of asbestos lead to the development of malignant pleural mesothelioma and asbestosis. Even though it was well known that many asbestos workers had asbestos lung cancer and conclusive evidence pointed to asbestos as the cause of mesothelioma, little was done to stop asbestos exposure in and around the minds.
This patient story is about a man who now owns an architectural cement company, but was once an accountant in Johannesburg. His company did auditing work for several asbestos mining companies. He personally worked at several of these mining companies where he received asbestos exposure. He worked at some of the mines two days a week and others once a month, consolidating the financial records.
This patient remembers his visits to the mines well, where he noticed workers packing bags of asbestos by hand as asbestos dust filled the air. The storeroom where he went to cross-check information had asbestos dust on all the surfaces and even in the rafters. Anyone who worked in this facility would have been exposed to massive quantities of asbestos dust on a regular basis. Inhalation of this dust and getting it on clothing was inescapable. He worked in this environment two days a week for six years, beginning the same year when the conclusive scientific evidence showed the link between asbestos and mesothelioma: 1962.
Now, 40 years later, he has been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma. The blue dust and asbestos fibers he had inhaled while at the mines had settled in his lungs. Over time, the asbestos fibers caused inflammation and the development of cancerous tumors. Mesothelioma cancer cell tumors grow rapidly after the onset of the disease, causing the lungs to fill with fluid and considerable pain and discomfort. The asbestos accountant must now visit the doctor regularly to have the lungs drained.
Courses of chemotherapy and radiation have been started, but the prognosis is not good. There is no cure for this disease, and the life expectancy for pleural mesothelioma is short, with most patients perishing within a year of their mesothelioma diagnosis. This patient had hoped to wind down his time at this architectural cement firm, leaving the company to his sons. Now he and his family take each day at the time, not bothering to ask the doctors his true prospects.
He will claim compensation for his mesothelioma injury, and his medical bills are covered by insurance. However, no amount of money can restore his health or buy back the time he would have had with his family.
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[Page updated March 2005]